EURO 2016 QUALIFIERS: Josh Magennis ready to step up to the international plate for Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland striker Josh Magennis
Northern Ireland striker Josh Magennis

One of the burning questions surrounding Thursday night’s European showdown with Greece is whether Northern Ireland can win without goal scoring talisman Kyle Lafferty.

Lafferty is suspended for the crunch European qualifier at Windsor Park following an early booking against Hungary last month.

The towering striker’s impact during the Euro campaign has been nothing short of sensational.

Seven goals in eight games is a prolific return from a player currently struggling to get into Norwich’s squad – let alone their starting XI.

On Thursday Michael O’Neill will plan without Lafferty and decide on a team he hopes can earn victory against Greece.

Defender Conor McLaughlin and midfielder Chris Baird are also suspended – two more Euro 2016 stalwarts who have played pivotal roles in Northern Ireland’s success story to date.

But with victory required to guarantee qualification for next summer’s Euro finals, the focus revolves around who will get the goal (or goals) to open the gateway to France.

One player keen to make an impact at Windsor is Kilmarnock striker Josh Magennis.

Magennis has emerged as manager O’Neill’s go-to guy when seeking an alternative to Lafferty.

The 25-year-old has been used from the bench in five of the eight qualifiers to date - against Hungary (D 1-1), Faroe Islands (W 3-1), Finland (W 2-1), Greece (W 2-0) and Faroe Islands (W 2-0).

O’Neill is an admirer of the robust striker, who never shirks a challenge and is always willing to accept responsibility in front of goal.

“Should Josh be selected we know what we’re going to get from him – total commitment, total application and I think in the past he’s been judged unfairly,” O’Neill said.

“I’ve watched him a lot in Scotland. At Aberdeen he didn’t play as a centre forward all the time and that is his preferred position.

“When you’re playing right-back one half, and centre forward the next half, it isn’t easy for any player to deal with that. The one thing Josh does is give everything and do what the manager asks him to do.

“This season he has finally had a chance to play in his preferred position and his strongest position.

“He was Kilmarnock’s top goal-scorer in a difficult season last season and he is their top goal-scorer now, too.”

O’Neill believes Magennis will give Northern Ireland a presence against Greece.

“I’ve watched him in the SPL and he’s different from most centre forwards,” the international boss added.

“He has power and pace and is one of the few centre-forwards in the Scottish Premiership how can physically test defenders.

“Josh is only going to get better and I think he has improved technically on the artificial pitch; his link-up play is better and he’s key to everything Kilmarnock do.

“With that belief his cameo appearances for us in this campaign have been significant, too, against the Faroes and Hungary.

“Should he start, I have total belief. I know what I will get from him and he deserves the opportunity.”

And Magennis insists he is ready to grasp the mantle as Northern Ireland set their sights on France 2016.

“Michael has a few strikers to choose from, including the likes of Billy McKay, Liam Boyce and Will Grigg,” Magennis said.

“Ever since the Hungary game when Kyle got suspended, we have all had a few weeks of club action to prove what we can offer.

“I started off playing the last five or 10 minutes for Northern Ireland, but in recent games I have been handed slightly longer – like 15 or 20 minutes. That’s progress for me and something I have to build on.

“If Michael chooses to give me more game time against Greece then I will be ready. I know I have got it in me to score that goal.

“All I can do is make sure I am ready if I get the call, and be in the best shape I possibly can.”

Magennis has hailed the impact of leader Lafferty during the Euro qualifiers.

“To be on the pitch with him is just fantastic. He is a great teammate but I also cherish him as a friend,” Magennis added.

“When he scored that 94th-minute equaliser against Hungary, it was just amazing.

“We were feeling down in the dumps, and then suddenly it was just euphoria.

“Hopefully we can experience that same euphoric feeling against Greece.”

POSSIBLE N IRELAND SIDE (4-2-3-1): McGovern – McNair, McAuley, Cathcart, Brunt – C. Evans, Norwood – Ward, Davis, Dallas – Magennis.

POSSIBLE Greece (4-2-3-1): O Karnezis – V Torosidis, S Papastathopoulos, V Moras, J Holebas – A Samaris, A Tziolis – G Fetfatzidis, K Fortounis, C Aravidis – K Mitroglou